Published on TheHill.com on August 9, 2010
My observations from the campaign trail are that this year’s elections will be a total and complete disaster for the Democratic Party. In fact, it will amount to the obliteration of an entire generation of Democratic officeholders. It will become very rare to find a youngish baby boomer white Democrat in elective office in the United States. I believe that almost half of the white Democratic congressmen who are seeking reelection will lose!
A wipeout of this magnitude cannot be explained, alone, by Obama’s ratings or his policies. He has fallen sharply since he took office, but even ratings in the 40s do not explain this type of result. It is increasingly obvious that Congress has earned much of this disaster by itself, quite unrelated to Obama. The vision of the deal-making that accompanied healthcare was too disgusting for the average American to stomach. And now the failure of the Congress to expel Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) underscores its inability to police itself.
But Republicans need to remember that when they lost the House in 2006, about 5 percent of their incumbents were under indictment, convicted or in prison, or resigned. Washington has always been the crime capital of America, but the House of Representatives was its highest crime-rate neighborhood!
Republicans should embrace specific ethical reforms, which they should showcase in their campaign advertising in 2010. These positive ads will do as much as any good negative to underscore the difference between a Republican challenger and a Democratic incumbent.
The reforms should include:
• The establishment of an office of special prosecutor for Congress, with its head appointed by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for a fixed term. The office should have subpoena power, a well-funded staff and the right to convene grand juries and issue indictments. Self-policing by ethics committees obviously does not work.
• All earmarking should be banned. Congress cannot be trusted with this power.
• A ban on spouses of members of Congress serving on boards or accepting employment by any company or organization that receives federal funds. In cases like Mrs. Chris Dodd and Mrs. Evan Bayh, corporate board employment was a way for special interests to influence their husbands and pad the family checkbook.
• A ban on families of members of Congress serving as lobbyists.
• No free travel, whether sponsored by foundations or lobbyists. Only government trips on official business — real business — should be allowed.
• Full disclosure of the precise amounts of members’ net worth, debts, investments and holdings, including home mortgages.
• Full publication, online, of all committee votes.
• No student loan repayments for congressional staffers.
• A five-year ban on lobbying for members of Congress or their staffs after leaving office. The ban should also apply to employment by a company that performs lobbying services.
• If a senator or congressman is absent more than 10 percent of the time for reasons other than illness — including running for president — his pay should be docked proportionately.
• Term limits for congressional staffers. No staff member of Congress should be permitted to serve in a job that pays above $100,000 a year for more than eight years. If we can’t get term limits for Congress, let’s at least clean out the professional staffers!
A smart candidate in 2010 will take elements of these proposals — particularly the special prosecutor — and put them in his or her campaign ads. Cashing in on Obama’s unpopularity and his failed agenda is only half the battle. Capitalizing on the dismal state of congressional ethics is the other part!